By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
PINSON — Before the season started, Pinson Valley running back Nick Gibson set a goal for himself of 1,000 yards rushing.
Two games into the season, and he’s already halfway to that mark. Time for new goals, Nick?
“I want to be the number-one running back in the country,” Gibson said. “I’ll go for 2,500 yards now.”
The junior speedster turned in his best performance to date, racking up 447 yards and six touchdowns, but still had to hold off a game Mortimer Jordan squad for a 48-36 win Friday night in the regional opener for both teams.
Gibson, who's already attracting the attention of several Southeastern Conference schools, broke open three big touchdown runs — a 75-yard and a 69-yard dash coming in a span of less than two minutes in the third quarter, plus a 63-yarder in the fourth when he didn’t even want to still be in the game.
But coach Matt Glover sent him out for one last run, knowing the the Blue Devils were still within striking distance thanks to quarterback Devlin Hodges in command. Sure enough, Hodges followed Gibson’s last score with a quick march downfield to cut the deficit to 12 points late in the game, but ran out of time and receivers in a last-gasp drive.
Hodges — who confirmed after the game that he has backtracked on his earlier verbal commitment to Southern Mississippi, and has yet to make a new choice for college play — ran 10 times for 198 yards on his own, and threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
But the spotlight fell on Gibson for the entire night, as he made play-calling easy for Glover. The only time he didn’t have the ball in the end zone for the Indians was with 35 seconds left in the first half, as quarterback Brooks Garrett connected with Michael Evans on a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Garrett didn’t even start for the Indians, thanks to nagging sornes with his rotator-cuff muscles. Sophomore Errius Collins started instead, but Garrett soon proved to be okay enough to play, which mainly consisted of handing the ball to Gibson.
Defense was found wanting from both sides, which didn’t sit well with defensive-minded Glover.
“That Hodges kid is scary good,” Glover said. “I told the kids he can beat you by himself. And they did a lot of stuff we haven’t seen. But I don’t like those track meets.”
The Indians got off to a shaky start, after kick returner Juray Smith fumbled away the opening kickoff, then turned over the ball again on a punt about five minutes later. The Blue Devils didn't take advantage of the first mistake, but they did the second as they took over on the Pinson 18. Three plays later, Hodges found Landon Smith on a 7-yard scoring strike.
The Indians answered with Gibson, who marched 70 yards on five plays by himself for the first score. But on the first play of the subsequent possession, Hodges took off on a 75-yard touchdown run, and the Devils were up 14-7 after one quarter.
But Hodges himself set the Indians up for their next score when he fumbled the ball away on his own 18, and Gibson got his second TD two plays later.
Late in the first half, Garrett’s touchdown toss put the home team ahead, leading 21-14 at the break.
Jordan (0-2, 0-1 region) went back on top in the third period when Smith ran a punt back to the Indians 38, then went the rest of the way on the next play with a Hodges pass. A two-point conversion gave the Devils a one-point advantage, but that lasted all of 21 seconds. On the first play after the following kickoff, Gibson found the outside edge and zoomed 69 yards, and pinson was ahead for good.
When Hodges threw an interception moments later, Gibson waited a couple of plays before going 75 yards to paydirt. He scored twice more in the fourth quarter, and the Indians needed every point to stave off Jordan down the stretch.
Pinson Valley (2-0, 1-0 region) travels next Friday to Walker, which was banned from post-season play by the AHSAA after a post-game fight between head coach John Holladay (who’s resigned since) and a Cullman assistant coach. Mortimer Jordan takes on Curry in its home opener.